Saturday, August 18, 2018

No switcheroo at the polls for this city boy in cowboy country

Every eight years, Democrats in Wyoming are faced with a dilemma. For the August primary, should we change our registration from D to R as in Republican and vote for the least offensive of the R candidates?

Wyoming permits voters to change their registration up to the Aug. 21 day of the primary and vote accordingly. After voting, you can change back and be on your way, your conscience clear that you may have helped keep the more odious conservative gubernatorial candidates from running against the Democratic candidate in November.  WYO is a party preference state, so at the polls you get a D or R ballot based on your registration. Up to 10 percent of voters in the state register as unaffiliated. To vote in the primary, you have to switch to D or R. Most will choose R in this overwhelmingly Red State.

In 2010, this tactic ensured that moderate Matt Mead was the R on the ballot against the D, Leslie Petersen of Jackson. Petersen was the superior candidate. But it was 2010, the Tea Party year, and he didn't have a chance in the general. Mead's opponents were Tea Party regressive Ron Micheli, the wishy-washy Colin Simpson, and former state auditor Rita Meyer.

Local Democrats gathered the night of the primary to nosh and and drink and gab and listen to the results on the radio, just as we did in days of yore. Micheli and Meyer exchanged early leads. Mead crept up and passed them both by the time all the precincts were in.  We went home secure in the knowledge that our guy had a snowball's chance in hell of winning and that Mead would guide us for the next eight years. This was important to me because I was a state employee and the Gov was my boss. I would work with him and his staff on issues important to the arts in WYO. I wrote the annual "State of the Arts" speech. Sometimes that speech was uttered almost verbatim at the Governor's Arts Awards in February. More often, however, the Gov's speechwriters got their hands on it and mangled it beyond recognition. As a corporate and government writer/editor, I learned long ago that anything I do is a rough draft. Actually, I discovered that as a fiction writer, too. I am never edited when I write in my journal or when I write this blog. The only time I revise my blog post-post is when I make a mistake, particularly a factual error. Blogs are notoriously cavalier with the facts, be you prog-blogger or wingnut from the Right. I attempt to be accurate.

Mead won in 2010 and 2014. He's a super nice guy as is the First Lady. Mead was so nice for eight years that he almost never got his way with the Republican majority in the state legislature.  Mead now says that he is going to retire to his Albany County ranch and chill, and who can blame him? We thought he would jump right into a Congressional race. Maybe in 2020. Maybe not.

Have I ever crossed over the Rubicon on primary day? No. Will I do it this time? No. The Dems have a terrific gubernatorial candidate in former legislative minority leader Mary Throne. She's a Gillette native, an attorney, a mom and a cancer survivor. Nobody on the Republican side can match her. Mark Gordon comes closest. He's the current state treasurer and a moderate compared to the others. He grew up on a ranch and continues to ranch, as you can see in his many folksy TV ads. He's up against some dedicated crazies but, at least in governor races, the moderate R usually has the advantage. Even now, in Trump times. Where you get the real crazies are in races for the gerrymandered legislature. I've documented some of their worst transgressions. Sometimes I get sad and give up. Then I get mad again...

No switcheroo at the polls Tuesday for this cowboy. Actually, I'm not a cowboy. I'm a Dem and a city boy who's worked in the arts. As a kid, I used to suffer violent asthma attacks when adjacent to livestock. When I ride horses now, I look like the dude that I am. Kind of like Foster Friess, although much younger. Somehow, I learned how to survive and thrive in cowboy country without betraying my liberal social justice background. How about you?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Baby Boomer grew up hating Nazis -- and still does

The Nazis are in D.C. this weekend.

Sounds weird, doesn't it -- Nazis in our nation's capital city? Last time we contemplated Nazis roaming through D.C. was in "Man in the High Castle," and that was sci-fi. Before that, it was George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, demonstrating in front of the White House against President Eisenhower's effort to send military aid to Israel. Nazis don't like Jews -- you probably heard about that. Rockwell thought there was a Jew in every boardroom and behind every tree. He should have been concerned about members of his own organization -- one of them gunned him down outside an Arlington, Va., laundromat in 1967.

Prior to World War II, Nazis curried favor inside the beltway. They found isolationists and white supremacists willing to listen. As Philip Roth envisioned in "The Plot Against America," Charles Lindbergh and his Nazi sympathizers did not get into the White House in 1940 and keep the U.S. out of the war and the Nazis in power.

Baby Boomers grew up hating Nazis. Our fathers fought in World War II and they hated Nazis. Movies and TV shows extolled the virtues of killing them. Until "Hogan's Heroes," which transformed concentration camp life into comedy. My father refused to watch the show. "None of that is funny," he would say. We kind of know what he was mad about but we did think it was funny. "I zee nuthing!" Oh, Schultz. Ha ha.

Nazis tried to kill my father. Not him, specifically, just any G.I. that wandered into France in June 1944. If they had succeeded I would not be here, in this form, anyway. I might be a grandmother in Belarus. I might be a Pacific Ocean sea slug. As in George Bailey's alternate universe, I may not have ever been born.

At the heart of my Nazi hatred is what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." Hitler and Goebbels and Eichmann were easy to hate. But what about the millions of Germans who followed Hitler? Those who worked as low-level bureaucrats tallying the amount of gold yanked from dead people's mouths at Auschwitz and Birkenau? Someone had to keep those records. How far along are we with The Final Solution? Halfway? Two million more Jews to go!

Most of Hitler's support came from the compliant. This will always be Germany's shame. "We thought that smoke from Buchenwald was a barbecue." We were proud of bringing down this rotten regime.

Now we have our own rotten regime. Arendt would recognize the signs of totalitarianism. Trump is a liar and a braggart. His followers are true believers. Bad combination.

The Nazis march in D.C. today. Would I kill a Nazi just for being a Nazi? I don't think I have it in me. Would I punch a Nazi? Too old for that. Do I oppose everything that these people stand for? Absolutely. I wish I could be in D.C. this weekend at what are being called "counter-protests." Thing is, how can you counter such a rotten philosophy? This is a white pride rally. A bunch of goofballs, including KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who say that the white race is superior and your Indian/Somali/African-American/Nicaraguan neighbors are inferior. This cannot be as you have seen the proof with your own eyes. Your neighbors from India shoveled your snowy sidewalks after your heart attack. You watch the Academy Awards with your Somali friend who had no movie theater in his village. You've been a member of NAACP and seen the good works on this organization and the  stalwart stance it has taken against white supremacy. Your Syrian cardiologist saved your life. And so on.

The Nazis marching today in Washington aren't worth spitting on. Same goes for their leader, Donald Trump. They are beneath contempt but we must be ready to fight them with the tools we have. Truth. The Free Press. Poetry. Maybe violence, if it comes to that. It did once.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Poet Anya Silver bids farewell with righteous rage

Nicole Cooley wrote a Facebook post about her friend, poet Anya Silver, who died this week. She included a poem by Silver that expresses the anger we feel at the premature death of a loved one. This is the raw anger that we would like to turn loose but don't. We are angry and sad but sad rules out because that is what we feel and what we are expected to feel. If we indulged in the anger that Silver writes about, well, we would upset the others who are equally sad and angry as hell. It is a moment of solemnity, not rage. But rage belongs. Find more of Silver's poems at the Poetry Foundation web site. 

by Anya Silver, 1968-2018
I’d like a long braid to lasso my rage away,
to stand on a stage in a garter belt
and thigh-high boots and stamp my feet
through the floor, like to put my face
right up against someone else’s face and scream
until the scream knocks me to my knees, coughing.
I could become an arsonist, delicious click of the lighter.
Every time someone I love dies, I’d like a diamond
to line the hilt of a dagger, or tip an arrow.
I’d like to shoot the whole God damned universe
through its infinite starry center, and watch it suck
into itself, scattering the suns and galaxies
over each other like a jar of tipped glitter.
Don’t tell me not to be angry. Do you know
how close I am to flinging my whole animal body
at you, how little I care about being hit
back, or spat on, or bruised? Humiliation
means nothing to me. I have nothing to lose.
If you push me off a building, I’ll sing.
I’d jump in front of a bullet if I could.
I’d let someone wring my neck if only
I knew it would hurt God just one bit to watch me die.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

That old guy peeing in the chair still has stories to tell

The certified nursing assistant (CNA) named Ashley pulls me out of my chair and leads me to the walker so I can get to the handicapped accessible bathroom. It's 4 a.m. on an August Friday and she and the nurse make their rounds. The staff has pumped fluids into me all day and dosed me with diuretics. I fell asleep in the chair so I could be close to the john. The joke was on me. I pissed into my Depends and my gown and into the chair.  I had spinal surgery and have trouble walking. I am as helpless as the baby I hear crying over on the pediatric side of this surgical floor.

"Sorry," I mumble.

"It's OK," the CNA says. "It happens."

Not to me it doesn't. That's what I wanted to say. I am a 20-year-old CNA -- we were called orderlies then -- working in a Florida hospital. I peel 67-year-old old men out of chairs they have peed in. I clean them up, help them dress, sop up the mess, and get them back into bed.

"Sorry " they say.

"It's OK," I say. "It happens."

I am a 20-year-old college dropout. I'm not old enough to drink or vote. As I do my chores, I think of the cute blond 20-year-old CNA named Sharon whom I helped earlier in the day. We laughed as we made the bed in an elderly woman's room. The woman sat slumped in the corner as we talked about movies we liked. I wished that this co-worker was not dating my good friend Jim. I sure would like to take her out to one of the movies we talked about. Maybe a drive on the beach. Maybe the surf would be jazzed after work. Maybe I would take some time to think about what to do with the rest of my life.

I'm 67 again. The hospital staff has put me back in my chair, turned off the lights and left. The young CNA is thinking about Friday night, just 12 hours away. The nurse with the braids could be contemplating a weekend with her family camped by a mountain stream. You can see the jagged outline of the Rockies from my fifth floor room.

I am a 20-year-old in a 67-year-old body that is failing. My wife sleeps in the pull-out bed near the window. Some of us suffer in silence. Some of us like company. I wonder what the other young people who keep this hospital working are thinking about tonight. I wonder who other old men are remembering tonight.

I remember this. That cute nurse's aide from that hospital long ago broke up with my friend and I took her to a movie. We spent the next 18 months together. In the summer of 1972, we hitchhiked 10,000 miles around the U.S. we ended up living in Boston where we both found hospital jobs we liked and decided to become nurses together. She became a nurse and I decided to pursue my love of writing. End of our story.

Thursday morning, about 3 a.m., I found myself awake and still a little buzzed from Wednesday evening's surgery. A nurse named Dusty asked if I was ready to pee.

"Need to urinate eight hours after surgery or..."

"Or what?"

"You know what a catheter is, right?"

Dusty accompanied me and my walker around the quiet halls, thinking that might shake up my system. She took me by the veranda that looked over the sleeping town. We chatted. When we got back to the room, she ran water in the sink and I voided. Dusty took a look at my bladder through a scope and found I had urine in there just looking for an excuse to come out. I eventually squeezed out enough to keep the catheters away.

The next night, I turn into Niagara Falls.

At one point, I thought about spending my working life in hospitals. Not peeing in chairs but taking care of those peeing in chairs. In an alternate universe, that is Mike's life. There are many alternate universes. My reality is now.

This won't finish me off. I will be older and incontinent somewhere else. My wife of many years will be gone. My friends will be gone. My grown kids will live far away. I once asked a hospice nurse if people died with their loved ones around them.  "Most people die alone," she said.

I leave stories.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A return trip to the Mind Eraser may help me with mobility issues

I can't walk. OK, I can walk but with difficulty. I fell three months ago and the docs finally figured out I sustained some spinal damage that took its time showing up. My fall was a wimpy fall. I lost my balance and fell into s snow-packed gutter. It was the last snow of the season in Fort Collins and I was helping my daughter move. Nobody saw my fall. If they had, I am sure they would have rushed over to help the old guy out of the gutter. So no witnesses. I brushed the snow from my keister and realized I was going to walk around the rest of  the day with a cold, wet butt. Five days later, my back began to ache. The ache stretched across the entire lower back. It hurt like hell. I started having trouble walking. I retrieved my cane from the closet and used that to get around until I couldn't and then made the transition to a walker. My fingers began to tingle and I lost coordination in my left arm.

It took three months to get to the "bottom" of the problem. My spine sustained some damage from the wimpy fall. A minor whiplash exacerbated my arthritic spine, and maybe a blow that I had sustained in an earlier fall or a traffic accident from three years ago. Whatever, I needed surgery. That's today. I was bummed to hear I needed spinal surgery but I hunted down a great surgeon for the task. So nervous about it. Excited, too, as this might be the beginning of the end of my decrepitude. The doc says I will probably need therapy to get back the use of my legs and arms. I can deal with that. But not walking? I am an active guy and this frustrates me. Even when I write, I get up and pace. I work out in the gym three days a week and swim two days a week. I love to hike but the  mountains have missed me this summer and I have missed them. 

I have a friend Tom with MS. We've known each other for 25 years. He was jut diagnosed when we met at our Denver church. I've seen his struggle. I've been part of the group getting him from his van to the wheelchair. I've helped Tom negotiate non-accessible spots, of which there are too many. He no longer walks and has difficulty with his hands and arms and innards. Still, he keeps on. When our boys were teens, we took them to Six Flags Elitch's in Denver. My son Kevin went off to swim with a girl he met and the rest of us decided to ride the Mind Eraser. Tom's son Brian insisted. Riders with a handicapped tag get to go to the front of the line along with their family members. The Elitch's staff members were good about helping Tom into the contraption that looked like a medieval torture device. The ride picked up speed and five minutes later, my mind was totally erased. I screamed the entire time, or at least I think I did. We were shaking when we disembarked but also laughing like fools. Tom needed help getting back in the wheelchair and we enjoyed some of the more sedate rides the rest of the day.

Tom showed courage and grace getting on that ride. I was skeptical he insisted, as did Brian. Tom's mind has remained sharp even while his body did not. He played baseball but now is just a dedicated follower of the MLB, notable his hometown Red Sox and our regional favorite, the Colorado Rockies. I look upon him as an example of what you can do when threatened with one of life's toughest physical and mental challenges. When I had to use the walker, I stopped going out. I didn't want people to see me in such sad shape. After six weeks of that, I was a mess. My wife challenged me to go to our annual Fourth of July party and bocce ball tournament. I sat and kept score while she refereed. A few of the grown men had stopped at the Fireworks Superstore on the way to the party. They set off smoke bombs and twirly, flashy things. No big rockets as fireworks are illegal in this Wyoming town that everyone in Colorado equates with Fourth of July celebrations. I had fun. We all did. At that point, I began to get out of my shell and get back in the world. That's it, isn't it? You have to get out in the world. No excuses.

Following today's surgery, I will be challenged to see what my body can now do. Sure, that's a challenge. But it's the mind that's the real issue. I get to test the strengths and weaknesses of my physical self. But it's my spiritual and mental state that makes the difference.

Maybe I need a return trip to the Mind Eraser. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Do odd things happen to writers, or are writers just odd?

A question for my writer friends: Do odd things happen to you, or are you the odd thing?

The answer is important. The world is odd, filled with strange happenings that call out to be translated into poems and stories. But I may be the odd one for noticing and then spending hours/days/months on writing a story to make some sense of this odd occurrence. Maybe it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to be entertaining or thought-provoking. It may never be published, never. read by more than a few blog fans. 

To get on with the story...

I had a weird experience Tuesday at a Colorado hospital that will remain nameless. I was the subject of a Cervical CT Myelogram procedure. The docs and nurses in Radiology were supposed to start in on me at 1 p.m.. And then it was 2 and then 3. Finally, the head tech explained to me that the computer had hijacked the hospital. It mistakenly booked me in the fancy Radiology room next door and wouldn't acknowledge that I was waiting in the plain vanilla Radiology Room. I said why don't you put me in the fancy room. He said it was expensive, only used for the difficult cases. I was glad that I wasn't a difficult case. 

The IT guys stormed the premises. They were not like the "IT Crowd" technos who told frantic operators this: "Have you tried turning off  the computer ans turning it back on?" They came to rescue. The problem seemed to be a tough one. The IT guys figured out they had to discharge me from the hospital and admit me all over again, trick the computer into thinking I was a new patient suited only for the cheap room. 

They did that and thought they had it licked when the computer changed its mind and put me back in the fancy room. There must have been ten people in the room, some working frantically on the computer, others preparing the room for the medical procedure that was sure to start any time now. I talked about books with a nice nurse who was writing a children's book in her spare time. Earlier, as she checked me in, she found out I was a writer and said that she thought that I looked like the creative type. I was flattered, as people usually think I look like Colonel Sanders. 

After two hours, they tricked the computer for good and the Radiology team jumped into action. The doc pumped me full of contrast, which one of the techs described as a "sticky oil" which, when scanned, highlights the details of my cervical spine. Once they pumped me full of sticky oil, one of the techs got on with tilting me at various angles on the table while another tech shot images on the scope. They tilted me head first and then prone. They tilted me forward for a second time to make sure the contrast reached into the furthest reaches of my upper vertebrae. I didn't object. I only wanted to do this once. They took some other pictures with me on each side and one of my neck and shoulders. Satisfied, they sent me over to the CT room where another tech scanned me. 

When I got back to the recovery room, a new nurse turned on her computer and looked for my chart. "You don't exist," she said. 

Odd, but I was lying right there. A few minutes later she found me.

"Looks like the computer discharged you" 

Of course. 

The nurse got me readmitted and discharged me again, because that was part of her job. 

As my wife Chris drove me back to Cheyenne, a few things occurred to me. It wasn't a bad way to spend five hours. It was 95 hot degrees outside, cool inside. Chris had taken the day off so we spent some quality time together. The staff was kind and patient. It made me wonder if they were this nice to all patients. The nurses admitted that many who come through their doors are very sick and usually older than me. Some of the procedures involve a lot of physical pain. Pain, as always, turns your attention inward and you are not always aware of others feelings. Me, well, I was in a little bit of pain but didn't want to be a pain. So, after lying around two hours waiting for the multimillion-dollar computer system to recognize me, I decided that resistance was futile. I could have told them to forget it and make me another appointment. But I didn't want to come back another day.  

It was very entertaining. The staff gave me a handful of cafeteria food coupons to make up for the delays. I hope I'm not back at that hospital any time soon, not even for chicken-fried steak night.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Good books and late-night comedians will not save us from the Trump cult

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

They might be Dickens' best opening phrases, this in "The Tale of Two Cities:"
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The author goes on to tell how an apocalyptic event such as the French Revolution can bring about both noble deeds and The Reign of Terror.

Not a new theme, not even 150 years ago when The Tale of Two Cities was published. It's biblical, right? Humans were born in original sin and can only be saved through God's grace. On the road to redemption, humans joust with perdition. The Ten Commandments fall by the wayside as The Seven Deadly Sins rampage through the countryside.

That's a western cultural view. But all cultures offer something similar. Shakespeare lives on because he offered entertaining portrayals of human folly, ones that "end well" and many that don't. The best literature does the same thing.

Human behavior is terrifying. No end to world events to serve as illustrations. Fiction tries to encapsulate the struggle of good vs. evil without being too doctrinaire or too predictable. It's a challenge. How do you offer solace to your reader when your imagined world tuns to shit? Some prefer traditional romance or cozy mysteries. Literary culture scorns the romance writer and reader. When I worked at  bookstore with other snarky college grads, we snickered at those housewives who bought Barbara Cartland volumes by the number. There were so many of them, all with similar overs and titles, that the readers lot track. "Do you have number 37?" they would ask. "Love's Tender Promise" or is it "Tender Love's Promises?" We usually could send them on their way with the right book. During lulls at the store, we challenged each other to come up with the most absurd romance title. We were so smart and judgmental. We read real books when we had time after working several part-time jobs, full-time employment tough to find for English majors..

Humans are so ridiculous.

When the well-educated, urbane, Barack Obama was president, we thought that the U.S. was on its way to becoming a post-racial oasis bristling with creativity and promise. This may still be true. Or maybe it never was true. Our wit and wisdom did not prevent Trump's rise to power. It will not get rid of him. As much as I like Trump jabs delivered by late-night TV hosts, it will not deliver us from the Trump cult.

That's up to us voters.